From some rifles to an army: The history of the YPG

The YPG fighters who battle now in Raqqa recall their rise from the first formation in Dirbêsiyê battle with some rifles, to the battles for Serêkaniyê up until today to an army which defends whole of Northern Syria.

YPG fighters who take part in the Operation Wrath of Euphrates spoke to ANF about the 5th anniversary of the Rojava Revolution and founding of the YPG.


ANF spoke to Orkeş Serdem, a YPG fighter who witnessed the rise of the YPG as a member from the outset. Serdem unfolded his thoughts with a short recollection of the first state of affairs of the war, and told the following:

"The Syrian Revolution against the Assad regime took its beginning in 2012. It started in Deraa. The revolution passed after that into to Homs, Idlib and many other cities. The first forces which rose up against the regime were called Jaysh Hur. But then some other groups emerged which bore all the name of Islam, but which were not at all formed to bring about freedom to the people. They were chiefly focused on personal profits. When they started in Deraa for example, they really sought after the freedom of the people, but it stopped with their presence in Hama. When Ikhwan groups turned up in Hama, they had only in mind to take revenge for the massacres of Hafez Assad. And they also intended to establish a force bearing the name of Islam in Idlib in the north, but propagating for a very strict kind of Islam. The regime on its side stepped up with massacres and shoved the people into jails as the war intensified. They wanted to create a force in Northern Syria, or to say it exactly, in the heart of Rojava from Qamishlo to Dêrik and Efrîn, which would not serve the protection of the people. Some of them demanded a system shaped after their interpretation of Islam, while some eyed for the chair of the state's presidency. They were not at all interested in building up fraternity among peoples.


The YXK (Association of Students from Kurdistan) which was formed from within the society was a smithery of the society itself. I mean it evolved from within the people. The people had at that time just a vague imagination of what a true revolution would look like. They called out for freedom but still were unable to understand it fully. The force was largely formed by Kurdish youths. These youths received training to be able to protect their villages and cities. They were prepared for the task to protect their community. Those other forces didn't have any intentions to drive out the regime nor to free the people because they were formed in the name of religion or shallow pledges for democracy. All of them were operating just for their own interests. Their only worry was to capture as many towns as possible and to attain oil fields in Syria. They wanted to grow on such premise.


The YPG was founded around the same time when Jaysh Hur crossed into Serêkaniyê in 2012. From the very outset of the foundation of YPG out of the YXK, the goal was never infringed to the protection of the Kurdish people alone but set out for all the peoples in Rojava and Syria. Youths of the Kurdish, Arabic, Christian, Circassian and more people were part of the YPG as the people's defense units. All the elements in Rojava and Northern Syria strived henceforth to lead the revolution with a democratic and free mentailty to victory.


When the People's Defense Units were formed, many forces within Syria didn't wait long to oppose it. To prevent the YPG to succeed, they spread propaganda a lot in a hope to sully the name of the new force. But after the battles of Serêkaniyê took place, the truth of the YPG was unfolded to everyone. It was that time that the people came to know the truth and philosophy behind that force, namely fraternity of the peoples in Syria. But those hostile forces didn't let it be and planned many times to carry out massacres against the peoples in Northern Syria. Because that region, with its diversity of peoples, is very different from the rest of Syria. There are peoples as Arab, Turkmen, Circassian, Syriac, Kurds and many more. But these plans to dissolve the YPG failed because of the mounted resistance and struggle. We have seen many times people deserting those hostile forces to join the YPG after they saw the truth with their own eyes. When the people from different elements joined our ranks, what did they realized then? They realized at first that our force is vibrant of an unquenchable source of willpower. To fight the other forces which keep killing civilians, ravage their homes and drive them to emigration. The YPG is bound to history and came for the protection of the people, while again on the other hand the society developed within its ranks.

There was no fraternity of peoples in Syria before. Everyone was forced to be as the Ba'ath regime enacted it, even though all these peoples here had lived together for thousands of years. What the YPG aimed to realize in Rojava was that anyone could live according to their own culture and history.


Rojava was subject to many destructive attacks during the Syrian Revolution, because its soil is rich in all aspects. Just mentioning petrol and water, its whole sources of economy are vast. The forces which attacked Rojava didn't do it to topple the regime but to get hands on the wealth of the land. The YPG prevented them from doing that and to sully the land of Rojava with their filthy mentality.


The People's Defense Units followed its vow to protect all peoples of Syria and the land of the country, and liberated the whole stretch of land from Serêkaniyê to Shedê. Gang's attacks were after that not directed to Cizîrê Canton, but concentrated on the city of Kobanê. They attacked Kobanê with all their might but were defeated. They suffered a defeat which already went down in history.


Today we are in Raqqa, conducting an operation for its liberation. The YPG crossed to Raqqa after it grew and developed itself out of its own labour. All our fighters requested to be sent to Raqqa. All the international powers are watching Raqqa as all their political bargains involve the city. But after its liberation a system will be established which the people yearn for, however we need at first to free the people of the city from the gangs' rule of oppression completely.

When we first headed towards Raqqa we started to approach Mishlib, which was rather easy because the gangs totally lacked morale and strength. ISIS is totally defeated. Their power is broken, their will shattered. We approach slowly into the city to prevent civilians being harmed. That is why we prefer not to haste. We try to keep the civilians out of harms way because the gangs use them as human shields. It goes very well and the gangs suffer immense losses. Their bodies are in our possessions.

Our comrades launched this campaign with revolutionary spirit and have already surrounded whole of Raqqa. What only remains is the city center, which we will cleanse gradually to prevent damage on civilians."


Another YPG fighter named Salar stressed the conditions under which the YPG had to lead the struggle, and started to tell of the first battles with rifles:

"I was also there at the beginning of the Rojava Revolution and still am. It was for me very meaningful to take part in such a revolution.

When we started we had only very few means. We had no weapons. There were very few. First, we drove the regime out of Dirbêsiyê. The battles were fought with rifles then which weren't enough at all. Just some kalashnikovs which belonged to some families. They provided us with those guns and we fought with those.


After that we fought in Serêkaniyê where Jaysh Hur was a major force. We drove them away from of our city after which our possibilities grew slowly. We confiscated their weapons, cars and dushkas and went ahead until we reached where we are standing now. After Serêkaniyê we reached Til Xelef, Mamburka, Girê Spî (Tal Abyad), then Manbij and after that we fought for Kobanê. We created possibilities by our own but it was still not enough. The people still didn't knew us and our truth well enough, most of whom were Arabs. The only option was nonetheless to go on and we did, whereafter also those Arabs came to know us and realized that the Ba'ath regime brainwashed the people because they were really afraid of us before it. But they later understood that we defy and fight against oppression they slowly approached the Rojava revolution and started to take part in it. Now, they are a majority.

We gradually drew near to the freedom we went for, but we were never granted rest. We have been put on an embargo. Sêmalka was closed. We weren't able to cross our wounded out of Rojava to have them treated.

Today, we fight together with our Arab comrades in the phase of Raqqa's liberation. We fight together, get trained in the same Training Cycle, and many come to us receive our special training.


ISIS has no more the force they used to have. They resort to attacks with bomb-laden cars to damage the psychology of the people, but more ISIS can't do anymore. Their strength is depleted.

We didn't even believe at first that we could reach this level. Why didn't we? Because we had neither any means nor any support from the vast communities. Nonetheless we were labelled as terrorists. The Turkish state and Southern Kurdistan still call us terrorists.

But we foiled all their hostile efforts with our struggle and resistance. Up to this day, the major force which resists and fights ISIS are the YPG and YPJ forces.


I want to add, that we are resolute to continue our fight against ISIS until their total defeat. We will march and resist on the path of the philosophy of Leader Apo until the end. And I express my condolences to the families of martyrs and repeat for them our vow to march on the martyrs' path."


Rûken Qamişlo, a YPJ fighter who also fights in the ranks of the YPG and YPJ since 2011 referred to that time as follows:

"That time was a very crucial one. Especially one filled with hardship. We not only had difficulties getting new members, but had to struggle also with an immense lack in armory.

At the time of the YXK we managed everything in a covert manner. We organised ourselves and held meetings in secret. The fighting skills which the YXK trained itself in was only restricted to the fields. We didn't have any experience. We didn't have any military training. We gained our experience during the war. We endured many a times without any food or ammunition. But in the face of all difficulties and troubles, the successes we had and the atmosphere of friendship really made up for all of it.


We joined many operations. We joined the liberation operations of Til Hemîs, Til Berek and many other campaigns. I'd say that the spirit of comradery was spurred at that time with a different intensity. When we shot our first bullet we felt like having liberated Kurdistan. We felt in battle like being invited to a celebration. Our sufferings today are nothing compared to back then. Our comrades were guided by a feeling and motivation which cannot be put into words these days. Because they joined the battles which would decide on everyone's life or death when battling the ISIS groups. But how is it today? ISIS has no strength anymore as they did before. They are finished. The only active ones of them are practically just their snipers. They use bomb-laden cars and lay mines. They can't battle for real anymore which - I believe - is in Raqqa obvious. But we will not hold back.

We as the YPJ are here to avenge all women of the world and especially the women of Shengal who got killed and sold by thousands. We are here to prove us as the women's defense forces."

Dijwar Qamişlo, another YPG fighter, told us also of the beginning from his own experience when they had to operate in secrecy and without any means or logistics. Dijwar stressed then that they made up for all the deficiencies by their sheer number and perseverance, and went on as follows:

"At first al-Nusra groups were present in Serêkaniyê. Our comrades arranged all preparations and we headed to our city. Some of that group were joining us but betrayed us afterwards in the morning of the holy day. We never trusted or believed anything of them because we understood they were just some gangs.

We launched our operations and fought until we liberated Serêkaniyê. The front line was opened up by that. So we started to advance towards Til Hemîs, Til Temir and Til Berek. The gangs were claiming that nobody could ever cross Til Temîs, the biggest city in that line. But we did, liberated it and continued until we reached Shaddadi.

When the YPG was founded we received only from then onwards training as a real battalion. The growth of the People's Defense Units continued with each gains we made.

We fought in many operations. We fought in campaigns for the liberation of Shaddadi, Kobanê, Shengal and Jazaa. After that, Hesekê city followed. The moment we secured the border we went for the liberation of Manbij.

And the most recent is Raqqa, which we have entered with very high morale. Everybody claimed Raqqa would be the worst, but we didn't encounter any special difficulties. Yes, we are now in Raqqa and lead everything also here to a victory."